Ground Transport in Cambodia
The Cambodian government has been frantically upgrading roads throughout the country since about 2008. While great for the country, it does make travel advice quickly obsolete! Finding an unsealed road on the tourist track is less common these days and most travelers will not live out the horror stories of car-swallowing ruts or wet-season quagmires. For the time being (March 2012), notable unpaved roads that would be of use to travelers are Battambang-Koh Kong (currently a great dirt bike adventure across the mountains or a long detour by bus via Phnom Penh), access to the Banteay Chhmar temples (a high-quality unsealed road, as good as a sealed road during the dry season) and the road between Sen Monorom and Banlung (if there’s any remote jungle left in Cambodia, it’ll be here). The borders, coast, and major cities are all well connected with good roads.
Longer journeys in Cambodia can be taken by bus, pickup truck, or shared taxi. In many towns, whichever of these are available will be found at the local market square. Larger towns and cities will have bus stations (though take note: buses do not always depart or arrive at the bus station in Phnom Penh. Make sure you confirm the point of departure from the agent who sells you your ticket). Buses may also serve their companies’ offices, which may be more convenient than the bus station: this is particularly true in Siem Reap. Giant Ibis has the best reputation for comfort and safety and consequently charges a premium. As Giant Ibis frequently sells out, especially during the high season, a great alternative is PSD Xpress, a new company with the same high-quality standards as Giant Ibis. Other companies such as Sorya (formerly Ho Wah Genting), GST, Capitol Tours, or Paramount Angkor Transport are slightly cheaper alternatives, but expect overcrowded, run-down buses with lots of Khmer karaoke videos but no English-speaking staff onboard.
The recently launched bus ticket booking website CamboTicket.com provides online platforms to search for multiple destinations within Cambodia (along with the adjoining countries) and provide the flexibility to choose from multiple bus and ferry operators. Bookings can be made online with instant confirmation and e-tickets issued and payment can be made securely via credit/debit cards (MasterCard/Visa), WING money transfer, and also Cash on delivery (within Phnom Penh). Recently launched features on both sites include the ability to book and share taxis to multiple destinations.
Generally, bus travel is cheap, with journeys from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap or Sihanoukville costing around USD$6-12 for foreigners. Bring along something warm if you don’t like freezing air-conditioning and earplugs if you don’t like Khmer karaoke. There are a few night-time services but most buses leave in the morning and the last ones leave in the afternoon.
Vehicle safety, including commercial buses, is a big problem in Cambodia. On Highway 5, between Phnom Penh and Battambang, there are dozens of bus crashes annually, many of them horrendous, with multiple fatalities, yet most of these accidents go unreported. Drivers are paid per run and so usually motivated to finish as quickly as possible. The drivers are also often untrained, impatient, and at least on one occasion (according to those working in roadside fuel stations) drunk.
Some believe taxis are safer for inter-city travel, but taxis also often drive way too fast, and so are also involved in numerous fatal accidents. The advantage of being in a taxi, however, is direct and easy contact with the driver who will usually slow down if you demand it. The front seat in a shared taxi from Phnom Penh to Battambang should cost you about USD$20, though most foreigners prefer to rent out the whole taxi. Otherwise, you may be stuck waiting around until the taxi fills and end up squeezed between more passengers than seatbelts.
There are a number of small group travel tour operators in Cambodia who travel buy private minibusses, such as Cambodia Attractions Travel & Tours, that run multi-day trips across Cambodia. The small and professional guided tours are an easy and safe way to travel and see the local way of living in rural areas and places.
In cities, motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous. For quick trips across town, just stand on a corner for a moment and someone will offer you a lift – usually for a small fee of USD$1 or less, though Phnom Penh is more expensive. Unlike their Thai counterparts, they are not organized or trained in any way and do not wear any identifiable vests, so ride at your own risk. Motodops can usually be identified by their relatively shabby appearance and old motorbike. As with tuk-tuk drivers, negotiate the fare before getting on to avoid a stand-off later on, but keep in mind that few Motodops speak English, as they tend to be among the poorest and least educated in Cambodian society. All motorcycle drivers are required by law to wear a helmet (though this is frequently flouted, especially at night). As of 1 January 2016, passengers are required to wear helmets or run the risk of a USD$3.75 fine. Given Phnom Penh transport police tend to target tourists and given the high rates of transport accidents, it is best to bring your own helmet.
The public transport network in Phnom Penh Since 2014, Phnom Penh has been serviced by three air-conditioned inner-city bus lines. While other cities currently lack municipal public transportation, these lines run along the three main highways across the city. Line A: Monivong Boulevard, Line B: Mao Tse Tung Boulevard to Ta Khmao in the Kandal Province, and Line C the Russian Confederate Boulevard linking the airport with the city.